The Father of the English Bible

“If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.”

Tyndale sought to translate the Scriptures from the original languages rather than the Latin Vulgate thus improving on the work of his faithful predecessor Wycliffe. And so began a mission upon which Tyndale would spend the rest of his life at great cost to himself.

 

William Tyndale (1494-1536) dedicated his life to the translation of the Bible into English. It was the pioneering efforts of Bible-translators like Tyndale, along with the martyr-fires of those such as Ridley and Latimer, of Lady Jane Grey and Anne Askew that helped transform England into a Protestant nation. Born into an important family in the west of Gloucestershire, Tyndale studied at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge between 1510 and 1521. As Cambridge was teeming with Lutheran ideas at the time, Tyndale may have then adopted his Protestant convictions. He later complained that the universities taught heathen studies while neglecting serious study of Scripture until most had lost their appetite to understand such spiritual truth. After his time at university Tyndale was ordained at some point.

Fluent in seven languages and a scholar of Hebrew and Greek, Tyndale observed that most English clergy knew little more of the Bible than what was listed in their Missal (Mass Book). This astonishing state of affairs served to direct Tyndale toward his own divine vocation. In his disappointment he once quipped to a cleric, “If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” Tyndale perceived that lay people needed the Scripture in their own plain language that “they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text.” Only clergy and Latin scholars, however, could read the Scriptures, for by royal edict they could not be translated into or even read in the “vulgar tongue.” John Wycliffe (1320-1384) had translated the Latin Vulgate into English and his followers the Lollards had clandestinely distributed handwritten copies. This was not the accurate translation Tyndale desired. Further, this Lollard threat had led to laws against any unauthorized English translation.

Tyndale sought to translate the Scriptures from the original languages rather than the Latin Vulgate thus improving on the work of his faithful predecessor Wycliffe. And so began a mission upon which Tyndale would spend the rest of his life at great cost to himself. He first sought the support of the scholarly Cuthbert Tunstall, the Bishop of London and a friend of Erasmus. Tunstall was unfortunately more concerned with fighting Lutheran ideas than publishing the Bible.  Failing to gain ecclesiastical support, Tyndale realized that there was no safe venue in all of England from which to carry out his vision. With the hope of completing a translation of the New Testament he went into exile in Germany in 1524. He would never return to England. It appears he went first to Wittenberg for a time of study. In 1522, Martin Luther had published a German translation of the New Testament from the original languages and later an Old Testament in 1534. Tyndale desired the same for English-speakers.

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